We’re used to thinking of smiles as being a happy expression, but it’s not always. In fact, there’s more than a dozen different types of smiles, and they convey many different messages.
Because of the many different messages your smile can convey, you are probably using your smile a lot more than you expect on a daily basis. This makes it even more important to have a smile that isn’t carrying hidden messages.
The Duchenne smile is the one we most often think of when we think about smiling. It’s a spontaneous expression of joy that expands from our mouth to our eyes. It’s named after 19th century neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne, who used electrodes to stimulate and identify the muscles responsible for the expression.
Sometimes we think people want us to appear happy, so we pretend to be happy. Duchenne asserted that it was easy to tell the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one because fake smiles didn’t stimulate the muscles around the eyes. Only true smiles caused the eyes to crinkle. But now we know that this isn’t true: nearly three-quarters of us are capable of contracting those eye muscles when we want to give a fake smile.
But not everyone wants their smile to brightly broadcast their emotions, especially in cultures where too large a smile is considered socially unacceptable. In these situations, people use a dampened smile, which shows less on the lips and more in their eyes.
We may not have a word for it in English, but everyone understands the concept of schadenfreude: enjoyment at someone else’s pain. When no-one else is watching, this can result in a simple genuine smile. But in company, we realize we shouldn’t be delighting in the pain of others, and we try to conceal it with an expression of anger over a fixed grin.
The contempt smile is a blending of a fake smile along with an expression of disgust. What gives this smile away is the tightness at the corners of the mouth.
Nobody likes to give bad news–it’s almost as bad having to receive it. To try to soften the blow, we often deliver the news with a smile. This is called a “qualifier smile,” and it sometimes has the opposite effect–making bad news seem worse rather than better.
When you’re embarrassed, a smile often becomes your shield. Along with flushed cheeks, an embarrassed smile is a pretty obvious sign. Other signs of embarrassment include looking away from others, typically downward and maybe to the left.
“Grin and bear it” isn’t just a cliche, it’s almost an instinct. When we are facing adversity, it’s normal to put on a smile to try to get through. In this expression, a slight, asymmetrical smile is juxtaposed against a more generally sad expression.
This may be our most instinctual form of smile. Among other primates, it’s normal for low-status chimps to bare their teeth as a submissive gesture. People also make this expression in social situations when dealing with their boss or other people they consider to be higher status.
What Other Messages Is Your Smile Giving?
With all the different things your smile could be saying, you are probably using your smile during most, if not all social encounters. But if you’re not careful, your smile could be saying more than it should.
When people see your smile, they immediately form judgments about you. They make decisions about your intelligence, education, social status, even your kindness to strangers on the basis of the appearance of your teeth. Cosmetic dentistry can be used to give you a smile makeover that will ensure your smile says only good things about you.
To learn more about the beautiful smile cosmetic dentistry can give to you, please call (281) 367-5559 today for an appointment with Houston cosmetic dentist Dr. Scott Young, Purveyor of Fine Dentistry in The Woodlands.